How to Handle Holiday Returns for eCommerce

Congratulations, you’ve made it through the holidays! Well...almost. 

Though the New Year marks the end of the holiday shopping season, the mania of Q4 isn’t over quite yet for eCommerce brands. Just when it seems like you’re off the hook until next year, here come the ever-dreaded gift returns and exchanges. 

While every brand – and shopper – hopes that the items they purchase are perfect the first time around, this isn’t always the case. Shopping for someone else always involves some degree of risk. For instance, many holiday shoppers guess when it comes to things like sizing. 

So when the holidays finally arrive, that beautiful cashmere sweater you bought for grandma might be a size too small (especially after all that figgy pudding and eggnog). Also, sometimes the sender ships the wrong item – which is why it's always important to check because people make mistakes and no brand is perfect. Plus, other times products are damaged during transport. The result of all these situations: returns or exchanges. 

Holiday gift returns and exchanges are a much bigger phenomenon than you might expect. In fact, 34% of Americans will return a gift they received during the holidays. To prepare for this influx of returns and re-orders, it’s important for brands to have a plan of action to avoid delays and dissatisfied customers. 

Spatula’s at the ready, everyone! From our team at CAKE, here’s a helping hand to get your brand through the last leg of the holiday season, so you can spend more time celebrating and less time scrambling. 

Holiday Return Policy

It’s important that your return policy is transparent and visible to shoppers. There are a few things you’ll need to make clear to users straight away to avoid confusion or unhappy customers later down the line. Here are a few things you’ll want to cover:

  • Which products are returnable or exchangeable
  • The condition products need to be in to be eligible for returns or exchanges
  • How soon returns need to be made 
  • How to start a return (labels, packaging, post office, etc.)

We always recommend brands tweak their return policy to accommodate holiday gift returns and exchanges, as well. This means you’ll need to make changes to your policy prior to the holiday shopping season. We recommend before Black Friday and Cyber Monday. 

Many shoppers actually begin purchasing gifts for the holidays as early as October. So, if these customers want to send back or exchange gifts following the December holidays, your normal 30-day return policy means their purchases are no longer eligible for returns or refunds. 

To prevent unhappy or aggravated shoppers, you could consider extending your return period to 60 or even 90 days. This will build brand loyalty among shoppers for the next year! To promote repeat purchases and customer loyalty further, you could also include an incentive like free shipping or free returns, as well. 

However you choose to adjust your return and exchange policy to accommodate the holiday season, you’ll want to make sure it is clearly displayed. Consider displaying your return policy throughout your site's pages (homepage, product page, checkout) so they don’t miss it. 

Because ⅔ of shoppers will check a return policy before making a purchase, it's important to be upfront with your customers about your expectations. While no baker wants to admit how much sugar is in their Christmas cookies, honesty and transparency are key to building trust with consumers. 

Alternatives to Refunds 

After all that holiday shopping, customers are going to be extra concerned about getting their money back timely. Keep this in mind, and consider even optimizing your refund process to get customers their money back as quickly as possible (within 10 business days is advisable). 

While giving customers a full refund for their return is a good way to incentivize their loyalty, it is a momentary loss for your business. Instead of exclusively offering shoppers their money back, consider some alternatives like exchanges, store credit, or even an e-gift card. This way, you’re encouraging users to replace the returned item with another product from your store, instead of taking their business elsewhere. 

With store credit and e-gift cards, oftentimes shoppers will replace their returned item with one that isn’t fully covered by their refund. After all, it’s difficult to find items that are the exact same price. So this just means that customers will actually end up spending more the second time around. While they’ll pay the majority of the cost with their credit or gift card, shoppers will need to cover the rest of the expense out of pocket. 

Though this may seem like you’re taking advantage of your shoppers, really, you’re giving them a second opportunity to find something else they (or the recipient) will really love. 

Offering alternatives to refunds encourages customers to continue to shop within your store, thereby earning their loyalty

Protect Your Business from Extortion

While the season is all about spreading joy and holiday cheer, there are still those who like to take advantage and are willing to be a bit dishonest to do so. That’s why it's important you state the condition required for a product to be eligible for returns as well as examine the returned item. 

Though it seems time-consuming, you’ll want to check that all returned products are not damaged and are in the same condition that they were sold in. Because damaged products cannot be resold, it’s important to protect your business from losses by refusing to refund shoppers who attempt to return impaired items (unless they were damaged on arrival). 

Make It Easy for Customers to Return & Exchange

Everyone knows the holidays are the most wonderful but stressful time of year. While returns and exchanges are no picnic for brands, they’re equally as tense for customers. When frazzled users struggle to make a return, the first thing they will do is call customer service, which is notoriously slow during the holidays. 

It’s not uncommon for shoppers to have questions about making returns or exchanges, and turn to customer support for help. But this can be avoided. To avoid congestion on your customer care lines, you’ll want to make it easy for your shoppers to return a product. 

First things first: Consider your packaging. Does your packaging make it easy for customers to return items? Some things you may want to have included in your packaging are pre-printed return labels and directions on how to make a return. 

Another thing to note is that you don’t want to overcomplicate your return and exchange process. Believe it or not, some of the best-tasting sweets have the simplest ingredients. Take a yellow cake for example; just eggs, flour, butter, sugar, a little vanilla if you like, and...voilà! 

To ensure your return process is both practical and pleasant, keep it short and sweet. We recommend just a few easy steps (three to four) to avoid confusion and frustrated customers. Return processes should be user-friendly, as it’s hassle enough to have to make a return in the first place. The simpler your steps, the happier your customers. 

Tracking Features

To make returns and exchanges even easier on your customers, you should provide features that make the process as stress-free as possible. One of these to consider is tracking. This allows customers to make sure their return was delivered successfully.

You could also follow up with customers once their order is en route and returned. Send them an email or SMS alerting them that their package has been received, along with a refund receipt. Communication and transparency – especially regarding a return and the processing of a refund – are important in earning customer loyalty. 

Tracking features and delivery notifications ease customer concerns, so they can sit by the fire and enjoy a relaxing cup of hot cocoa without having to worry about their return and refund. Shoppers will also remember this later, so that next year they are more likely to return to your brand. 

Customer Support

Last but not least, customer support is ever important following the holidays. While you can follow all these steps perfectly and whip up a seamless plan for gift returns and exchanges, customers may still have questions and need a little help here and there. So amp up your customer support! 

Develop an FAQ page (if you don’t have one already) for customers to refer to. Include some FAQs about your return policy. This way, shoppers may consult this page in an attempt to avoid waiting for a customer service operator. 

The Only Holiday Miracle You Need is CAKE

Now that you’ve got your holiday gift returns and exchanges covered, let us handle the rest. Leave it to our experts to take on any and all of your marketing needs! To learn more about our services, contact a team member from CakeCommerce